Priests Face Extradition over Child Sex Claims

By Ray Lilley
The Courier-Mail [Australia]
July 3, 2003

SIX Catholic priests in Australia are under investigation and could face extradition for alleged sexual abuse of boys at a boarding school in New Zealand, police said yesterday.

The five Australians and one New Zealander are from the St John of God religious order, which ran the school for boys with learning difficulties.

In addition, a former priest, Bernard Kevin McGrath, 56, has already been in court and faces 32 sexual abuse charges involving boys at the now-closed Marylands School in the city of Christchurch on NZ's South Island.

He is currently out on bail in NZ.

Detective Sergeant Earle Borrell said his team of four detectives had just returned from Australia where they interviewed 40 people, including former Marylands priests and other staff, about former students' complaints of sexual abuse by the seven priests.

The seven priests under investigation range in age from the mid-60s to 84, Sgt Borrell said.

The head of the order, Brother Peter Burke, said earlier that the priests were living under "house arrest" in two closed communities in Sydney.

Those who had not already retired had been withdrawn from public duties, he said.

"A determination will be made in the next couple of weeks as to how we're going to proceed. Extradition is a possibility," Sgt Borrell said.

Last year, police began investigating allegations of sexual abuse at the residential school, which closed in 1984, when costs of running the institution became too high.

The accusations against priests and other staff surfaced several years later.

Parents around NZ had sent boys aged 7 to 17 to the school and the allegations involved some as young as eight.

"I'm hearing stories of lives that have been devastated," Burke added. Nearly all the complaints by 76 former students date back to the 1970s.

The abuse claims have shaken Christchurch, a staid city of 400,000.

In New Zealand, the order has offered $NZ4 million ($A3.5 million) in compensation to 56 former Marylands students, with payments ranging up to $NZ100,000 ($A88,000) for each.

The Roman Catholic Church in New Zealand publicly apologised in June 2002 for other cases of sexual abuse by priests and church members, with bishops expressing "grief and shame" over the incidents.


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